News Feature: The Beginnings of the Adventist Mission in Africa
By Andrew Hanson, March 10, 2016: The period 1894 to 1921 is generally regarded by historians as the pioneer period of Adventist mission work in southern Africa. In 1894 Solusi Mission, the first outreach to native Africans, was established and by 1920, when the white South African Union Conference became the Southern African Union Conference of the African Division with 11 native missions, the Adventist ministry among native peoples was considered established.
“The work in South Africa naturally divided itself into two concerns: first with the white people, second, with the native peoples who had yet to be Christianized.” (Origin and History of Seventh-day Adventists, Volume 4, 9)
The first Adventist in South Africa was a transplanted Nevada miner named William Hunt who arrived in the late 1870s to work on the diamond diggings in Griqualand West. He made his most celebrated convert in 1885, a Beaconsfield businessman, G. J. Van Druten. In 1886, Van Druten and another convert named Peter Wessels appealed to the General Conference (GC) for a Dutch minister to further instruct and baptize them. Van Druten enclosed about $250 to help cover expenses.
“This was the 1886 ‘Macedonian Call’ from South Africa. When this letter was read at the 1886 GC session in the Battle Creek Tabernacle, its message electrified the assembled delegates, who rose and sang the doxology.” (Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, p. 1210) Two mission families, two colporteurs and a Bible instructor, were dispatched to Africa on May 11, 1887. Within a month of their July arrival in Cape Town, a church of 21 members had been organized, and the earliest converts had been baptized. By 1892, a local conference of 130 members had been organized, and a Cape Town Conference and Tract Society headquarters with a meeting hall on the second floor was acquired, and a school building was erected.
On November 19, 1889, the letter of colporteur S. N. Haskell was published in the Review and Herald (hereinafter noted as R&H). In that letter he complained that it was almost impossible to sell books to “Christian heathen” because once converted they felt no need for further study. He goes on to speculate that race might make it impossible for natures to “reach up and grasp knowledge.” Only Europeans could be depended on to support the cause, he seemed to suggest.
Descriptions of native populations published in the Review on January 7, 1890, and April 14, 1891, by missionaries W. P. D. Wessles and Mrs. Ira J. Hawkins provide the following views of African culture: “Hottentots were sober and strict in their domestic relations, skillful in their rude fashion in all handicrafts, expert breeders of cattle and sheep, and extremely fond of dancing and music. On the other hand they were excessively dirty, lazy, and gluttonous. The women are excessively ugly.” (Wessels)
They “have no form of worship, and have no word in their language to express praise or gratitude. Some say they are incapable of feeling thankful, and only feign friendship for the object of gaining all they can, acting the deserter after securing the booty, and laughing at the folly of those who give. (Wessels)
“They have a frightening custom, so common with the natives, of abandoning their aged. They build a fence about them, leave them a little fire, food, and water, and abandon them to perish.” In addition, the Hottentots were a poor missionary risk, according to Mrs. Hawkins. Many converts had given up Christianity totally. (Wessels)
“Bushmen … are castoffs, or wild men of the country … hideous in appearance, especially in the time of famine [and] like the Hottentots, they are disgustingly gluttonous.” (Wessels)
The Buchuanas: “One is astonished at the home-like appearance of their homes … Thieving with them is reduced to an art. Everything the missionary possesses, if left for a moment unguarded, is taken. They are very peaceable people, seldom quarreling among themselves. … They are cruel in war, have no religion, but plenty of superstition, and great faith in their witch doctor.” (Hawkins)
Using a term that is today considered an insult, Hawkins wrote, “The Kaffir has some idea of treating disease, and a rude mode of using massage. He has no funeral ceremony but buries his dead as sheep is buried—limbs and head tied together.” Inhabiting the northern part of the country, they are “a fine race, of a dark brown color, with vigorous constitution, black wooly hair, thin beard, lofty forehead, and broad and, in some cases, slightly curved nose, projecting cheek-bones, and thick lips. … Yet with all their superstitions, they seem to have considerable conscience, respect for right and wrong, and regard, to some extent, the laws of social life.” (Wessels)
Starting in 1894
“The vices and violences of heathenism offer a sufficiently stout resistance to evangelization; yet because they are the product of ignorance, they fall and fail before the assault of enlightened ministrative Christianity.” (Ibid, 8)
In 1894, one year after the Matabele power was crushed in the newly founded colony of Rhodesia, new lands were opened for settlement. That was when the Adventist Mission Board voted to open a mission in Matabeleland. The Cape Conference contributed $2,500 to the enterprise, and A. T. Robinson interviewed Cecil Rhodes concerning permission to open mission work and the terms for securing land. Rhodes, after listening without apparent interest to Robinson’s presentation of the Adventist plan for industrial mission work, handed Robinson a sealed envelope addressed to his representative in Bulawayo. “Hand this to Dr. Jameson when you arrive,” Rhodes remarked, and Robinson was dismissed. (Our Story of Missions, 213)
Since Bulawayo was six weeks of travel in a covered wagon behind sixteen mules from the rail end to Kimberley, Robinson’s remark, “One could hardly guess how curious I was to know the contents of that epistle,” must surely rank as one of the great understatements in Adventist history. (Ibid.) As it turned out, Rhodes’ instructions to Jameson were to give the Adventists as much land as they could make use of. Twelve thousand acres were selected thirty-five miles west of Bulawayo, and Solusi Mission was founded.
This was the first of the twelve missions to native peoples established in Southern Africa by 1921. Included were Kolo Mission in 1899 near Mafeteng in the southwest of Basutoland; Sombula Mission in 1901 six miles from Gwelo, Rhodesia; Malamulo Mission in 1902 in the Shire Highlands, 40 miles south of Blantyre-Limbe, Malawai, near the town of Cholo; Pemba (or Rusangu or Barotse) Mission in 1905 near Monze, Zambia; Maranatha Mission in 1906 about 25 miles east of Grahamstown, South Africa (and in 1919 moved to Butterworth in the Transkei and renamed Bethel Mission); Emmanuel Mission in 1910 near Leribe in Busutoland; Tsungwesi or Inyazura Mission in 1913 ten miles south of Rusape, Rhodesia; Zulu Mission also in 1913 on the Spion ‘Kop Farm near Ladysmith, Natal; Glendale Mission also in 1913 near Fort Victoria, Rhodesia; Musofu Mission in 1916 in the Chitina area not far from the town of Ndola in Zambia; and Songa Mission in 1921 in the Congo, 400 Miles northwest of Elizabethville and 100 miles north of Bukama.
It should be noted that Adventist missionaries, like many of their contemporaries from other denominations, attempted to locate their mission stations among the most primitive people groups or “raw heathen.” J. C. Rogers, writing from the Zulu Mission in Natal, was blunt. “Natives here are not so eager to hear the gospel as are the “raw heathen” in the heart of Africa.” (R&H, July 13, 1916)
Wessel’s description of the tribes inhabiting the then almost inaccessible north and northeastern part of the Southern Africa as “a fine race” meant these were Africans as yet ignorant of conflicting Christian dogmas, who hungered for contact with whites and the one “true” Christian theology, Africans who had not yet had their lands “developed” by foreign interests. By the turn of the century such tribes had become increasingly difficult to find and Adventist missionaries were everywhere confronted with cultural, political, racial, and industrial problems that threatened to destroy their work. Also, the lack of adequate financial support after 1915 threatened to erode the progress that had been made.
Cultural Misunderstandings Threatened the Mission
“On the Sabbath the schoolhouse was fairly well filled with people from the neighboring kraals,” reported W. B. White in the Review of December 31, 1914. “An old chief of the neighborhood was present and occupied the front seat. I tried to tell the people of the better land than this, and that soon, if faithful, we shall go there; but I fear the sermon did not do much good, for after the meeting I learned that some weeks before this the native commissioner had visited … and told them that before long they would have to move to a reservation … assuring them that it was better land than they were living in. But the natives did not want to go; so when I mentioned the better land and told them that all the good people would soon be there, they came at once to the conclusion that I was working hand in hand with the government for their removal. … After the meeting was over, the old chief said he did not want to go to the better land; the rest could go if they wished, but he wanted to stay where he was.”
Mrs. W. H. Anderson recorded in the Review of February 18, 1915, “We lost one of our Christian girls, and of course we buried her in our little cemetery,” wrote W. H. Anderson in the Review issues of February 18 and March 11, 1915. She had died of measles, so “we quarantined the compound, and buried her before we sent for her people. When they came, there was a terrible uproar because we had thrown her away in the veldt and not buried her in her hut.”
About another incident, she reported in the March 11, 1915, issue: “Mr. Anderson was getting some stone to build a house, and he had two boys, considerably larger than himself, with him. He asked them to put a stone on the wagon, and they would not lift it. He said, ‘I can put it on myself, and you are larger than I.’ … They said, ‘it is your house you are building.’ They have no interest in anything for any one else.”
After T. J. Gibson opened the Glendale Mission, he discovered that he had teacher trouble. “In former days, the Matabeles raided Mashonaland for slaves and plunder. Now our first teachers for the Mashonas were drawn from Matabeleland. ‘It is hard,’ said one of these out-school teachers, ‘for the Mashonas to say to us, your fathers came down to raid us; how do we know but you will do the same sometime? They do not forget.’” (R&H, November 4, 1915)
W.C. Walston reported from Solusi Mission. “It is planting time now. The teams are plowing, harrowing, and planting. Some of the white workers drive the planter, as it is difficult for the natives to go in a straight line. (R&H, April 20, 1916) And from Shangani Reserve; “Chief Togarty … came to our Sabbath meeting. He is a chief, so of course we gave him a position of prominence at the front. If there ever was a heathen, Togarty is one. Three times during the service he went out and took snuff, and on coming in he discovered a thorn in his foot, and borrowing a pin, proceeded to extract the same before the whole congregation.” (R&H, January 11, 1917)
N. de Beer discovered that the most friendly sakubona (greeting) in the world can’t melt the hearts of men who stand to lose their beer and wives. “After a friendly sakubona and conversation, I mentioned to the chief our desire of opening a school among his people. He immediately lifted his voice in protest, seconded by every one present. Their greatest objection was, that when the girls go to the schools and accept Christianity, they refuse to make beer and to marry the men given them.” (R&H, April 24, 1919)
Sometimes, however, the missionary could come out of a tight situation smelling like a rose! H. M. Sparrow reported, “While at Shangani, Brother de Beer shot several crocodiles. It is a custom with the natives to bury the bones and skin; if this is not done, they think it will never rain. We kept one skin spread open at the house. Last year it was very dry, and the natives were very perplexed and feared it would be the same this year, on account of the crocodile skin. However, only a few days after the crocodile was shot we had our heaviest rain for two seasons. The natives marvel at this; their faith in the heathen customs is simply shattered. One native said, “I’m coming to live beside the mission, because you have God on your side.” (R&H, August 23, 1917)
Political and Racial Misunderstandings Threatened the Mission
“The Government has reserved large tracts of land for the natives,” T. J. Gibson reported from Southern Rhodesia, “where they are ruled over in all minor affairs by their chiefs, subject to commissioners [Europeans] appointed by the government, one for each district. Every able bodied male over sixteen years of age pays a hut tax of one pound a year, and ten shillings a head for more than one wife. As squatters on the farms, they are in most instances required by their owners to pay a rent of from one to two pounds a year, or its equivalent in labor. (R&H, April 1, 1915)
From Northwest Rhodesia, S. M. Konigmacher wrote, “The government is picking out the strong men among the natives of the district and sending them to the front as carriers for the soldiers. When I went to Lusaka there were to carloads of natives from the Manenga district on their way. This may affect the schools. (R&H, March 9, 1916)
In many areas Africans struck back. E.C. Silsbee reported that life had become a bit hectic at the Kolo Mission. “While we were absent from Kolo, attending the recent camp meeting at Durban, a revengeful heathen set fire to the grass roof [of the little church and mission school] and it was destroyed with the door and windows and the few pieces of furniture inside.” (R&H, August 24, 1916)
Racial incidents made S. M. Konigmachers’s Christian witness almost impossible in Northern Rhodesia. “The owner of this place has a dog that he has taught to bite the natives, and when a little boy came in with some roots to sell, the dog attacked him, biting him on the ear and on his foot. We were having worship at the time, and before I could get a stick, the dog was off. Landowners will dock the natives’ wages on the least provocation to keep from paying him. A cook boy was docked the whole month’s wages because he rode his employer’s bicycle. A leopard pounced on a dog lying out in the yard and carried it off. The owner said he would make the boy, who was supposed to look after the dog, pay more than its value, which was one pound. The boy gets eight shillings a month.” (R&H, June 24, 1917)
Approaches to Mission Did Not Keep Up with the Changing Situation
Konigmacher sounded a warning. “I wish our people at home would realize that they are not sending missionaries to a place answering to the description of missionaries thirty years ago, but to a wide awake country where every talent one possesses can be used to good advantage in spreading the truth for this time. You need no more expect to find lions and leopards at every turn here than you would find bears or wolves in New York City. We must be wide-awake to make the gospel services attractive and desirable. If this is done here, the native will come. It is no hardship for him to walk miles and miles if he knows that at the end of the journey, he will get what he is looking for. And he is quick to discover any sham.” (R&H, December 18, 1919)
A story from Mrs. W. H. Anderson in the June 16, 1921, Review, indicates that his colleagues failed to understand. “The parents suspected that he had been poisoned. … I asked them if they were willing to have me take complete charge of the case. They said, ‘Yes.’ … The lad made a wonderful recovery. This opened the home to Bible readings. Nothing has helped us so much as what this influential man has told of ‘The wonderful cure’ as he put it, and the wonderful light he received from the Bible. Said he, ‘Surely these are old-time missionaries.’ This is the sweetest thing that can come to one’s ears, for when they say, ‘old time missionaries,’ they mean men like Moffatt the Livingstone. They say the new missionaries that come to them now are not like the old ones in dress, words, or manner.” (R&H, June 16, 1921)
Over Commitment of Resources Threatened the Mission
E. Straw agonized in the Congo. “We delayed entering [and] when we got here this year, we found that one of the sites we thought favorable … had been taken by a Protestant society. The other site … was selected by the Catholics about a month ago. This has thrown us back farther from Bukama. (R&H, April 15, 1920) And brethren, the work in the Zambesi Union is gradually closing up. If we do not press in and become established in these unentered districts, we are liable to be shut out forever. Twelve years ago Belgian Congo was calling for missionaries. … We did not answer the call. [Now] our first need is workers. Because of lack of workers, none of our missions have been able to give their out schools adequate supervision.” (R&H, June 16, 1921)
B. Burton agonized in Zululand. “We cannot wait! This field has been passed and passed and passed. It is a repetition of the experience of the poor man who fell among thieves and was passed by the priest and the Levite, but was at last helped by the Good Samaritan. We wonder where the good Samaritans are? O, come over and help us, and do not pass us by! We pray for help and plead for help. Give us one more native worker for eastern Transvaal, another for Swaziland, and one evangelist for Natal… We want a good teacher for Schroeder’s Station in Natal. And O, give us books, books, books, and literature in the native language!” (Ibid.)
Before moving on to discuss Adventist mission schools, those fragile institutions which were preserved by tremendous sacrifice and incredible dedication, I feel compelled to mention what it cost in terms of Adventist missionary lives to establish and maintain these twelve original mission stations. In 1889, Dr. Carmichael, Pastor Tripp, the little daughter of Pastor Sparrow, George Tripp and Mrs. Armitage died of malaria contracted at Solusi Mission. F. L. Mead and the young son of G. B. Tripp also died at Solusi. The first Mrs. W. H. Anderson died of Blackwater Fever during her assignment at Somabula Mission. In 1913, C. L. Bowen died of smallpox at Tsungwesi Mission. Because of quarantine laws, Mrs. Bowen was forced to shout the news of her husband’s death to a colleague standing thirty yards away who just happened to be passing by. In 1918, Mrs. Bowen’s son, Laurence, contracted tropical dysentery. He was buried next to his father. Mr. and Mrs. S. M. Konigmacher lost two infant boys to malaria when they were stationed at Malamulo, and they lost a third son while pioneering the work at Musofu Mission.
Impact of Missionaries on Traditional African Social Structure
There can be no question that Adventist missionaries, almost without exception, did everything in their power to obliterate traditional African culture. The object of their holy crusade into “the Dark Continent” was to bring light to the “devil deluded … damned … cursed … godless … doomed … benighted hordes of heathen savages,” thereby transforming them, by the power of God, into “generous … genial … handsome … trustworthy … respectably clothed … obedient … loving servants (albeit inferior) of Jesus Christ.”
By 1921, Adventist missionaries had emptied hundreds of missionary barrels on hundreds of villages inhabited by tribes of “a child race” that didn’t know enough to be ashamed of their nakedness. (Period photographs reveal chiefs posing grandly as ragged winos.) Mission workers fresh from America and Europe remonstrated with “gluttonous savages, too lazy to care for crops properly, ” and for not using forks when devouring huge quantities of fresh meat. (W. P. B. Wessels, R&H, April 14, 1891) These emissaries of the True God publicly shuddered at the mention of windowless smoky huts with dirt floors, sternly condemned nude and provocative heathen dances, cut down sacred trees, railed against the lawlessness and filth of the kraals, cursed the practice of buying wives, loudly lamented the unholy needs of men whose passions drove them to acquire more than one wife, and preached against the vulgarity and frankness of native speech.
In addition to condemning the African’s “racial instincts,” economic and legal systems, and lifestyle, Adventist missionaries strove mightily to rid the natives of Southern Africa of pernicious initiation ceremonies, conducted by witch doctors, which confirmed African youngsters in their superstitious beliefs in pagan gods, herbalist medicine men, spells, the presence of their ancestors, taboos, and places of religious worship. In short, their missionary mandate was to bring African lives into harmony with the Law of God. This commission, in fact, required nothing short of the destruction of the social systems of African peoples.
Because most Adventist missionaries who were able to survive and work in Southern Africa from 1894 to 1921 were fearless, hardy, fanatically dedicated, absolutely sure of themselves, and capable administrators; because these missionaries were unofficial representatives of, and to a degree, protected by the powerful modern nations engaged in colonizing the African continent; because their mission stations and compounds were places where books were read, languages written, and agricultural and mechanical technology was displayed, these mission workers shook the foundations of the African societies they penetrated. They did not need to make converts to do this. Their very presence, words, attitude, and way of living called into question many traditional social customs and taboos. Their technological superiority argued for a vastly more powerful God than the Africans had previously imagined, and the “missionary’s black book” and picture roll were powerful arguments for the God of the missionaries’ awful authority in matters of social custom and religious belief.
Missionaries Introduce Western Education
Adventist missionaries were in Africa to preach the everlasting gospel, win souls and add members to their church. (The Great Advent Movement, 220; H. M. Sparrow, R&H April 1, 1920) And as the vast continent swallowed up their puny efforts and precious African converts deserted the fold, these missionaries realized that they needed reinforcements and their converts needed extensive grounding in the faith if apostasy was to be reduced. (E. E. Andross, R&H February 12, 1920)
However, in spite of moving reports of divine deliverance and tales of fearsome atrocities perpetrated by “heathen savages,” it soon became apparent to these hardy missionaries that the great immigration of European and American believers sorely needed to finish the work in Africa would not be forthcoming. It was also becoming obvious that Africans who had been carefully indoctrinated made tolerably good local missionaries, especially if they had become literate enough to read the picture rolls and key Bible texts. (W. S. Hyatt, R&H October 23, 1913)
The next step in African evangelism, the creation of Adventist mission schools, was an obvious one. These schools would make converts literate enough to read the Bible, provide the proper background for biblical interpretation and prepare the graduates for lives of missionary service to their fellow Africans. Mission schools provided the solution for God’s and the missionaries’ two most pressing problems: converts who were able to read the Gospel commission validated the missionary’s role in Africa, and the missionary’s demonstrably superior knowledge of scripture made him an acknowledged authority in matters of doctrine.
Attendance at school enabled Adventist teachers to observe the habits and sincerity of converts for extended periods of time, and the introduction of boarding schools made it possible for mission workers to practically eliminate the worldly temptations inherent in village life. Students could spurn their habitual laziness and learn the blessings that hard work brings by learning to hitch the mission oxen, plow the mission fields, plant the mission crops, prune the mission fruit trees, and burn bricks for new and more adequate mission buildings. (C. Robinson, R&H August 20, 1914; Mrs. W. H. Anderson, R&H March 18, 1915; W. H. Anderson, R&H October 20, 1908)
Academic Life at Adventist Mission Schools
J. Gibson reported from Southern Rhodesia in 1915, “At most of our mission day schools, only the vernacular is taught, first with a primer and then the Scriptures. From these schools are brought to the main stations the young people, both boys and girls, who are the most apt in their studies. At the main stations the native language is taught first, and as soon as a pupil is able to read the Scriptures in his own tongue, he is then given an English primer, followed by standard readers. Reading, writing, spelling, simple arithmetic, grammar, physiology, and geography make up the curriculum of the school. Naturally the Scriptures are most studied and are readily accepted by the young people coming into the schools. The Bible is their one book, and its plain teaching is final, and its authority unquestioned.” (R&H, April 8, 1915)
M. Konigmacher described his curriculum in the same year. Apparently, he taught only young men. “The boys have memorized the beatitudes, and are now committing to memory the commandments. A few who several months ago could not read are now reading in the Gospel of Matthew. They write well and are doing sums in addition. We sincerely hope that the gospel thoughts presented every morning will sink into their hearts and result in some taking a firm stand for the truth.” (R&H, April 22, 1915)
RReligious indoctrination was part of all academic and vocational classes at Solusi. R. P. Robinson described the school’s mission; “The school is really our first point of contact. … By every word and act we try to teach religion in the arithmetic classes as well as in the Bible classes. We endeavor to teach Christianity in harvesting mealies.” (R&H, July 12, 1917)
If the director of the mission felt that the time was ripe, academics could be suspended completely. Konigmacher’s reports in 1916, “The last week of school was devoted entirely to special services to try to win the boys to Christ. We were glad when a number asked for baptism. … We had two preaching services during the day, and the boys had their morning worship in their different houses; the evening worship was held together, with a native leading.” (R&H, June 29, 1916)
Teaching techniques were not often reported, but H. M. Sparrow provided the readers of the Review with the following strategic metaphor in 1920. “Finally one old man said, ‘I’ve heard it said for many years that Jesus is coming, and he hasn’t come yet. When is he coming?’ … ‘When you first heard that the white man was coming to your country,’ I replied, ‘did you believe it?’ … ‘No.’ … ‘Was it long between the time you heard it and the time he came?’ I asked. ‘It seemed many years,’ he said. ‘But is the white man here?’ I questioned. ‘Yes,’ came the answer. ‘And do you believe it?’ … ‘Yes.’ … ‘Did you know when he was coming?’ … ‘O, no.’ Then, I said, ‘That is just how it will be with many of us. Jesus will come, and we shall not be ready.'” (R&H, April 1, 1920)
Testimonies were reported more often. Student protestations of lack of understanding combined with the number of platitudes present in the overwhelming majority of the testimonies printed in the Review between 1894 and 1921 lead one to seriously question the quality of academic instruction in Adventist mission schools in Southern Africa. Religion was the subject most emphasized.
In 1916, Pastor G. A. Ellingworth at Malamulo Mission recorded the following student testimony from a Friday evening service. “I am thankful for God’s mercy in that he had kept me six days, and now he has shown me the Sabbath. This is not for any good thing that I have done, since there is no good thing in me. I am only an unprofitable servant. When I think I am doing right, I find it was all wrong because my heart is filled with iniquity. I pray that he will keep me meek and humble in serving him. I want my heart to be always near the Lord. Of my own self I cannot praise him. I need the Spirit to be with me that I may honor him at all times. I ask forgiveness, because my heart is just filled with the things of earth. I beg for wisdom, because when I read his Word I do not understand it; so I ask for a heart of wisdom that I may always understand what the Lord wants me to do. God is good and plenteous in mercy, therefore I want to lift my cross and follow Jesus for his goodness’ sake.” (R&H, June 8, 1916)
Clarence’s testimony was recorded by G. H. Clark the next year. He had just been chosen to be the assistant leader of Solusi’s first Missionary Voluntary Society (youth organization). “I am happy. I don’t understand very well what I have to do, but I have listened to what mfundisi [teacher] has been telling us, and my heart is stirred. I remember that the servant of the Lord has told us that every one who is saved and given a home with Jesus will have stars in his crown. If we join this society, we will learn how to lead others to Jesus, and so will get stars in our crowns. I am very weak, but I trust Jesus to help me.” Here his voice broke, and with tears in his eyes he took his seat. (R&H, April 12, 1917)
It was hoped that literacy, coupled with practical knowledge gained on the mission compound, would make the native graduates honored among other Africans and give them the opportunity to advise and at the same time share spiritual insight with influential men in traditional African society. This mission strategy seemed quite successful, initially at least, and Adventist mission schools became the centers of Adventist evangelistic activity. (S. M. Konigmacher, R&H January 1, 1920)
However, World War I depleted the European economic base upon which part of the Adventist mission program was built, and American Adventists were becoming increasingly interested in evangelizing Latin America, Asia and the Pacific. This meant fewer missionaries for Africa. Appeals for support of African missions were losing their impact. Letters from Tibet and reports of cannibalism in New Guinea were making the headlines in the Review. To make matters worse, African colonial governments were opening secular schools which promised Africans secondary and university educations.
About this time, missionaries and mission sponsors began to realize that Africans had the potential to be evangelists, teachers and administrators. (W. E. Straw, R&H July 25, 1918; E. E. Andross, R&H February 5, 1920) Secondary schools and teacher training colleges were expensive, but these would provide the manpower to finish the work in Africa.
The Adventist Missionary Legacy in Southern Africa
At this time, the Adventist believers in South Africa and Rhodesia supported apartheid. In fact, the South African government set aside the Beaconsfield Seventh-day Adventist Church, the first local church in South Africa, as a national historical monument.
Adventist missionaries in Southern Africa between 1894 and 1921 went to “convert heathens.” In order to do that, they had to educate some Africans, and the missionaries pointed to the educated Africans with pride. There are skeletons in the closet, however. The evidence is overwhelming that Adventist missionaries were committed to the systematic and unthinking destruction of African culture. Africans were forced to acknowledge that their souls are trophies to be added up, published, compared and jealously guarded from competitive Christian evangelists. Adventist missionaries taught by words and behavior that Africans were an irresponsible child race, not to be trusted in matters of morality and decision making unless there was no alternative. These missionaries generally approved of the external white exploitation of Africa and Africans by glorifying the docile, submissive, apolitical “Christian native,” and discouraging the first stirrings of independent political and religious thought. This would become history that Adventist leaders would later regret.
The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Review and Herald Publishing Association, Takoma Park, Washington, D.C., 1894-1921.
Howell, Emma E., The Great Advent Movement, Review and Herald Publishing Association, Takoma Park Washing, D.C., 1935.
Olsen, M. Ellsworth, A History of the Origin and Progress of Seventh-Day Adventists, Review and Herald Publishing Association, Takoma Park, Washington, D.C., 1926.
Spaulding, Arthur W., Origin and History of Seventh-Day Adventists, Volume 4, Review and Herald Publishing Association, Takoma Park Washing, D.C., 1962.
Spicer, William A., Our Story of Missions for Colleges and Academies, Pacific Press Publishing Association, Mountain View, California, 1921.
Seventh-Day Adventist Encyclopedia, Commentary Reference Series, Volume 10, Review and Herald Publishing Association, Takoma Park Washing, D.C., 1966.
Dr. Andrew Hanson is a Emeritus Professor of Education at the California State University in Chico, California, and a regular contributor to Adventist Today.